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William Frantz Public School

A Story of Race, Resistance, Resiliency, and Recovery in New Orleans

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Connie L. Schaffer, Meg White and Martha Graham Viator

Why should you care about what happened to William Frantz Public School? Yes, Ruby Bridges entered the iconic doors of William Frantz in 1960, but the building’s unique role in New Orleans school desegregation is only one part of the important history of this school. Many additional and equally important stories have unfolded within its walls and the neighborhoods surrounding it. These stories matter.

It matters that society has historically marginalized Black students and continues to do so. It matters that attempts to dismantle systemic racism in schools and other institutions still face strong resistance, and these issues continue to deeply divide the United States. It matters that the building remains standing as an indomitable symbol of the resiliency of public education despite decades of waning support, misguided accountability, and a city devasted by Hurricane Katrina. It matters that opportunism, under the guise of recovery, reshaped public education in New Orleans.

William Frantz Public School: A Story of Race, Resistance, Resiliency, and Recovery in New Orleans provides more than an examination of education in one school and one city. It recounts a story that matters to anyone who cares about public education.

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2. The Exodus

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CHAPTER TWO

The Exodus

Black students, their parents, and the NAACP approached school desegregation with hope for better schools and as a step towards equality, but for some White parents November 14, 1960, represented a dreaded day. To the regret of many Louisiana citizens, school desegregation had become a reality.1 This sentiment, expressed in the Times-Picayune editorial, became increasingly apparent in the days following Ruby Bridges’ enrollment as protesting continued in the streets around William Frantz Public School. The number of protesters increased, as did their volatility. It took several weeks for the angry mobs to quiet, although remnants of the original group would remain throughout the school year. Beyond William Frantz Public School, city and state officials, community leaders, and ordinary citizens continued their frenzied reactions. While some supported school desegregation, many worked to derail it in the halls and chambers of the Baton Rouge capital, courtrooms throughout Louisiana, boardrooms in New Orleans, workplaces, and even in the pews of their churches.

In 1960 John Steinbeck chronicled events at William Frantz Public School (WFPS) in the immediate days following Bridges’ enrollment and captured what he and millions of others saw on television and read in the newspapers. Steinbeck described Bridges’ daily arrival at school as a cautious trek from the car, up the steps, and into the building with U.S. Federal Marshals attempting to shield her from the shrilling crowd of women protestors.2 Extensive press coverage in 1960, ←47 | 48→Steinbeck’s writings published...

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